Mexican political prisoners freed

By Agencies
April 14, 2008

A deal brokered with Mexico's government has freed 145 prisoners after campaigning by thousands worldwide.

The Catholic Church has successfully helped broker a deal with Mexico's Chiapas state government to free the political prisoners.

43 of the prisoners spent more than a month on hunger strike in protest against their detention. Campaigners including Catholic aid agency CAFOD had also lobbied against their unlawful imprisonment

They had been accused of being linked to the Zapatista revolutionary movement.

The Chiapas Minister of Justice, Amador Rodriguez Lozano, has now publicly acknowledged the inmates’ innocence and said they had not had adequate legal representation.

He has also promised to prosecute those responsible for unlawfully imprisoning them.

Prominent bishops and The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre had campaigned for the release of the hunger-strike prisoners, which in turn led to almost 300 cases being reviewed.

In March the Chiapas state governor, congress and judiciary, set up a Reconciliation Commission. Some 100 lawyers were brought in to study cases from 1994-2006 and discovered the systematic use of torture and sexual abuse and the fabrication of evidence.

In 1994 the Zapatistas led an armed uprising – which gained massive public support – protesting against the poverty and deprivation of the indigenous communities and calling for greater political autonomy in Chiapas.

Since then, successive Mexican governments have stationed large numbers of soldiers in the region to repress any further unrest.

Sarah Smith-Pearse, CAFOD Latin America and Caribbean, says: “This is a real breakthrough in the long-standing political conflict in Chiapas.

"The Mexican authorities haven’t just freed a few prisoners; they are saying that torture and false imprisonment are unacceptable and that they are going to address the issue.

"It’s a complete turn-around and a gesture of peace and reconciliation after so many years of military repression.”

17 political prisoners who are supported by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Centre are still being held in Chiapas jails and continue to fast.

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